In my previous article on my own spiritual history, I mentioned some of the people who have been an influence on me. One person I forgot to mention was Hank Hanagraaff, especially through his "Bible Answer Man" radio show. He has had a huge influence on me, entirely for the better. In the early days of my Christianity, I had to drive about an hour to and from work. I found myself being drawn to Christian radio, at first to come up with reasons to oppose what they were saying (such is what our fallen will gets us!), but before long to learn from it. It is because of this time period of my life that I retain such a positive attitude about Christian radio. Christian television is, sadly, almost a wasteland with people like Fred Price, Kenneth Copeland, Robert Schuller, and T. D. Jakes filling the airwaves. Note that I say "almost": there are still good teachers and preachers on TV - people like Greg Laurie, John MacArthur, D. James Kennedy (RIP). In particular, I have recently discovered the "NRB" network (channel 378 on DirecTV) that seems to consist of almost completely solid preaching. Perhaps there is hope for Christian TV after all. Thankfully, Christian radio does not seem to have suffered quite as much from TV's downhill slide, perhaps because there is not as much money in it.
Anyway, because of my long commute, in those pre-MP3 days of the mid-90s I listened to a lot of Christian radio. I used to listen to so many programs - Hank's, John MacArthur, Dennis Rainey's Family Life Today, Tony Evans, even the corny radio drama "Unshackled." Though I don't have a commute anymore and so I don't listen to radio much, I am still very positive on Christian radio; I very seldom listen to any other radio stations - except, of course, when the Redskins are playing. It happened that Hank was on the radio exactly during my afternoon drive time. At first, I resisted what he had to say, but before long, after God changed my heart, I soaked it up. He spoke a lot of sense; he was obviously incredibly knowledgeable about the Bible; he had that quality of "holiness" about him.
Perhaps best of all, he supported the "mere Christian" idea I was learning to love from C. S. Lewis. That is, that we should not divide ourselves from other Christians, that we should (to use Hank's phrase), "debate vigorously but not divide." It is, I hope, with this spirit of "mere Christianity", that I write these blog postings. I heard him do this repeatedly even with positions that he disagreed with, and I respected him for it. For example, he wrote an article called "Safe and Sound" where he laid out his belief in the eternal security of the believer; and he was clear that he thought that the most Biblical position on the subject. However, he was always careful to emphasize that those who did not believe in eternal security were definitely within the "pale of orthodoxy," and never implied that such people had a faulty hermeneutic or a severe lack of understanding of the Bible. I learned to expect and respect and appreciate this kind of view of other Christians.
Then, a few years back, the "Left Behind" series started getting popular. There are many reasons not to like this series: two are that it is not well-written, and that it takes an extreme view of end times events that the vast majority of Bible-believing Christians throughout history have not believed and elevates it to dogma. (That it makes scads of money for its authors is neither here nor there.) So, Hank underwent his own quest to come to a conclusion on the end times; I recall that part of it included memorizing the entire book of Revelation.
He finally came to a conclusion, which is the orthodox partial preterist (amillenial) position. Now, I don't feel strongly about either the pre-tribulational or amillenial position; in fact it seems to me the most natural understanding of the Bible as a whole would lead one to a pre-millenial but post-tribulational view. But I naturally assumed that, in taking a view, he would treat other views the way he treated other doctrines he disagreed with.
So imagine my surprise to hear him using language against pre-tribulationists that I never heard him use with other views he disagreed with. He repeatedly said - and continues to say - they didn't know how to "read the Bible for all it's worth." I heard him very nearly equate John Nelson Darby's epiphany about dispensationalism to Joseph Smith's reception of the Book of Mormon from the angel Moroni. Then, I recently heard him blame the dispensationalist point of view for the sufferings of the Palestinian people; his idea seemed to be that the Palestinians suffer because America supports Israel, and the primary reason America supports Israel is because of dispensationalist preachers.
Now, I am no dogmatic dispensationalist (the doctrine seems to me plausible but not well-supported by Scripture) but this seems quite a bit excessive. I could imagine few things less like the "mere Christian" Hank that I had grown to know, respect, and love.
This was followed closely by another area of non-"mere Christian" response; and this second area is one that is far more important than eschatology. I am speaking, of course, of soteriology. He seems to be one of that popular but ill-defined breed, the "Calminian." He takes some views that seem more or less Calvinist (Total Depravity, Eternal Security), but rejects the tough Calvinist points (Unconditional Election, Irresistible Grace); sort of a "Calvinist Lite."
However, as with his eschatology, I am not so much disappointed with the position he takes as with the fact that his position is so harshly and vehemently anti-Calvinist. This, too, seems to me a relatively recent innovation in his thinking. Initially, when I was trying to sort out the questions of monergism vs. synergism, I heard Hank talk on several occasions about "libertarian" and "compatibilist" free will. This seemed to me very abstruse terminology, but something I wanted to understand. I recall hearing James White on his program - in fact, Hank's program is where I first heard Dr. White. He once held a live debate between two radically opposing viewpoints on soteriology: James White taking up the Calvinist position and Calvary Chapel's own George Bryson taking up what can only be called the anti-Calvinist position.
Over time he became more and more against the Calvinist position himself, similarly (it seems to me) as his transformation in the area of eschatology. Recently, he has gone completely off the deep end, equating the God of Calvinism with a "cosmic rapist" and saying that the Calvinist's God would be personally responsible for sin in the universe. (Why the Arminian's God, who apparently knew evil was going to happen but decided not to do anything about it, escapes the same criticism I'm not sure.)
With this, my disappointment in Hank was complete. He took simplistic, poorly-thought out criticisms of Calvinism and spread them far and wide. I now rarely listen to him. It is a real shame that the champion of "mere Christianity" would use such strong language against positions which I think he would admit are within the "pale of orthodoxy" (though, strangely, I have never heard him say on the radio).
Should we have strong opinions, and "discuss [them] vigorous without dividing?" Yes, about important topics. But to call names? That seems to me to be about as un-"mere Christian" and (more importantly) unloving and un-unified as you can get. Hank, whither hast thou gone?